While working for Rocky View County in Alberta to help them redesign their website, we held an on-site kickoff meeting that included two sessions of card sorting. These sessions went rather well and included some in-person card sorting facilitation.

About the Website

Here are the facts that I knew about the website before I facilitated the card sorting exercise:

  • users have not had a lot of good feedback on the site
  • county residents expecting better service from the website and not seeing the site as up-to-date and well organized
  • the site didn’t have as much traffic as the county wanted
  • the county has a hard time getting feedback from residents.

To organize the information according to how residents want to find it, I needed to know how different audiences expect to find or search for information. As part of the project, I decided to run focus groups with card sorting activities.

Selecting Participants

The project started off very quickly. I had no time to do audience analysis. I would have liked to discover the types of visitors to the site, such as the resident, business, farmer, and community activist. Instead, I conjectured that different age ranges might be a good fit for selecting participants. I asked the county to try to recruit people in different age ranges who might use different county services at different times in their lives. Of those who could participate, most of them were community volunteers.

The Card Sort Session

For the card sort focus group, I had 10 people and grouped them five groups of two. I gave each group a stack of white index cards with labels on them. I also gave each group some blue index cards and a sharpie and asked them to group the white cards as made sense to them, then write a group label on the blue index card. I demonstrated with how to sort the cards.

As normal, people started off the exercise quite quickly, grouping what they perceive to be related items together. As they have more time to think about the organization, they start realizing that one topic can go into multiple groups. The groups of two needed to talk with each other and collaborate on the organization. This was a great way to see their thought process. When a group finished, I reviewed their sorting. If there was a grouping had more than 12 items, I asked them to look at the grouping again to see if it can be broken down further. At one point, one man argued with me that he could not break down a grouping of 20 items into smaller groups. I said he didn’t have to, but I’d be interested to see if he could. He told me he didn’t want to break it down any further. I let it go, but eventually he and his partner started to reorganize the grouping.

Once all the groups were done, I compared the different labels on the blue index cards and discussed them with the participants. I wrote the labels on those big post-its and we all discussed what the labels meant or the images they conjured up.

Results

The focus groups community activists who owned property or businesses in the county. Most were between the ages of 45-65, with one person in her late 30s. These demographics meant the results were skewed because these people were more aware of the county structure. The biggest downfall of this focus groups was the lack of variety in participants and the inability to gather more participants.

Another area for improvement could have been the card sort labels. I took these labels from the existing website, but it would have been better to profile the information the participants actually used on the website, and then give them topics focused on this information. The participants would have been familiar with the content and could have organized it more accurately. Unfortunately, the ramp up time before the facilitation was extremely short. In the future, I’d allow more time to get more familiar with the visitor tasks instead of relying on the content on the website for card sort ideas.

Related: Website Navigation by Audience: 3 Reasons Not to Use It